Obama, who is on a five-day global tour, stopped off in Paris on Saturday for a series of private meetings with high-profile French politicians, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, French President Emmanuel Macron and his predecessor, Francois Hollande.
One meeting on the brief Paris trip, however, stood out – when Obama acted as keynote speaker at a regular summit of a rather obscure organization with a striking name – Les Napoleons, who, according to French media, “staged a coup” by wooing Obama to Radio France’s headquarters near the Eiffel Tower.
Les Napoleons, which prides itself as an “innovative communications network” for leading players in business, media and culture, was established in 2014. Before Obama dropped by, it was largely unknown to the general public.
The network numbers just 1,500 people, self-styled “academicians” from the media, technology and finance industries, including 500 who are active.
The club’s co-founder, Olivier Moulierac, admitted to the French newspaper Le Monde, that Les Napoleons had been courting Obama for three years – well before he handed over the reins to Donald Trump.
According to Moulierac, what won them the high-profile American guest is the appearance of former French President Francois Hollande at the club’s event last July.
“Having Hollande has legitimized us with Obama,” he said.
However, it may not only have been the name of Hollande which attracted the former, still-politically active US president, to the meeting of a three-year-old enterprise, but a hefty fee allegedly promised to him for the opening remarks he delivered Saturday in front of a hand-picked audience of 800.
French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine last week said Obama would be paid as much as €400,000, claiming a sponsor of the group, French telecoms group Orange, was to foot the bill.
The report, however, was dismissed by Orange CEO Stephane Richard, who said that he was not aware of the sum, since Orange was not the event’s organizer. The amount, whatever it is, would be paid by the group’s other sponsors, he added.
An anonymous source close to Richard told left-leaning newspaper Liberation that all the group’s partners chipped in to afford Obama.
While there’s little evidence on how much exactly the Obama address cost, the impressive alleged sum is not without precedent: the ex-president has already come under fire for securing a $400,000 check for speaking at a Wall Street-backed conference run by Cantor Fitzgerald LP in September. His fee was reported to be twice the price netted by former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Although the practice of paid engagements is common for former presidents, Obama’s cashing in from Wall Street sparked strong criticism since he portrayed himself as an opponent of “fat cats,” as he once described Wall Street bankers.
Obama seemed to be in high spirits at the Paris event, delivering what appeared to be a thinly veiled attack on Trump as he said that there should be more women in power “because men seem to be having some problems these days.”
He went on to argue that “women seem to have a better capacity than men do, partly because of their socialization.”
Obama also lashed out at the “temporary absence of American leadership” in climate protection. Trump pulled the US out of a landmark climate change deal that was championed by Obama and agreed in Paris in December 2015.